Connecting Canterbury

DandelionFountain1 After nearly a decade of rebuilding, much of the baseline physical infrastructure needed for the regeneration of Christchurch is now in place. There’s still a lot more to do of course, but there’s now some breathing space to think about working on social infrastructure as well. Developing a vibrant and better connected local ecosystem will be the key to unlocking a wider pipeline of innovation across Canterbury.

Building a more connected innovation community also demonstrably aligns with the city-wide Prosperity Framework established by economic development agency ChristchurchNZ in 2018. This framework underpins business attraction and capability building activities across the city for the following decade and is strongly informed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the New Zealand government Treasury Living Standards Framework. Environmental sustainability, inclusion, scalability and confidence are therefore viewed as pillars of a recovering and strengthening city economy and are encapsulated within the adjacent Supernodes Strategy.

The Supernodes Strategy, in its current form, has a focus on four designated areas of Food/Fibre/Agritech, Aerospace, HealthTech and High Tech services. All of these areas are obviously predicated upon a well connected ecosystem that is strongly underpinned by world class capabilities in software, high tech manufacturing and research. But it is less clear where important and enabling innovation infrastructure itself sits within the strategy. For example, platform based digital services and game offerings are amongst the highest value and fastest growing companies globally. Should we consider creating a local niche to include these sectors?

The Supernode strategy also speaks strongly about inclusion, especially in cultivating diversity of thinking and about better engaging young people with the business community. The strategy seeks to achieve progress through “a collaborative approach between education, industry and the government…to ensure a prosperous future for the city and the region”. So actively building these bridges is a mandated priority.

Resilient infrastructure and fostering sustainable and inclusive innovation incidentally also forms the basis of SDG Goal 9, a global commitment that central government signed us up to. Supporting small business growth and facilitating investments in research and development are fundamental to this goal. This is especially salient in the context of a post-quake, post-Covid economic rebuild in Christchurch. So there are many brilliant reasons to foster connectivity across the innovator community in Canterbury. One of the strongest arguments for doing so is that there is plenty of untapped capacity, unlike in some of our other main centre cities.

Pandemic related disruption has unfortunately hindered community-building activities throughout much of 2020, but has ironically amplified the need for it more than ever. Community minded responses have thus far averted a public health crisis. In the meantime people in education and business found ways to keep working together. Maintaining and building robust, collaborative communities is more important than ever in the disrupted, remote working and rapidly changing world to which we must adapt.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of a New Zealand based technology venture, a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest. Paul is a co-author of the Entrepreneurship Manifesto 2020.

Image credit: Renea Mackie

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